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Ignaz BRÜLL (1846-1907)
Symphony in E minor op.31 (1880) [31:03]
Serenade No.1 in F major op.29 (1877) [35:16]
Belarussian State Symphony Orchestra/Marius Stravinsky
rec. Minsk, Belarus, July 2007.
CAMEO CLASSICS CC9027CD [66:19]

Recorded in 2007, this is not a new release but it’s the first opportunity I have had to make my acquaintance with what is volume two in Cameo Classics’ series dedicated to the ‘Music of Nineteenth Century Jewish German Composers’. Ignaz Brüll was first up with a sequence of piano miniatures and now here he is again, this time with two large-scale symphonic works.
 
The Symphony in E minor was composed in 1880 and opens with a noble, purposeful theme, supported by admirably judged and warmly layered orchestration. The wind writing’s decorative curlicues add pertinent colour. There’s no getting away from the fact that this is a work redolent of the towering symphonic figure in Vienna at the time, namely Brahms, of whom Brüll was a close friend. In fact the Moravian-born composer was selected, above all others, to lead Brahms’s funeral procession. The syntax of the writing and the orchestral sound-world are all very Brahmsian. In the Allegretto he shows a real facility for deftly proportioned themes, here thinning to chamber size, and also for a bucolic turn of phrase in the classically shaped Scherzo. As one wonders what has happened to the slow movement, Brüll opens his finale with a rather solemn, mournful march theme but this gradually generates a warm and lyrically effusive cast. The brass writing is strong and despite the somewhat ruminative end – hints again of Brahms – the writing reflects self-confidence in handling symphonic form.
 
The Serenade, Op.29 was written a decade after Brahms’ German Requiem, of which brief echoes can be heard. It’s an admirably warm work, cast in six movements of which the lyrical B section of the brisk Scherzo is particularly notable. There’s an unforced geniality of much of the writing, a lack of striving too hard that pleases. The Intermezzo is suitably relaxed and whilst there is again no obvious sign that Brüll was, as Wodehouse might have put it, much of a lad for slow movements, he was certainly a dab-hand at vigorous finales. That’s nothing especially distinctive, musically speaking, about the Allegro that ends the Serenade but it does have real brio.
 
The Symphony is clearly the focal point here and like the Serenade it is very well performed by the Belarussian State Symphony Orchestra under conductor Marius Stravinsky. Commitment plus finesse equals satisfaction. So too the recording. It’s well worth exploring the Symphony in what was its premiere recording.
 
Jonathan Woolf

Previous reviews: Rob Barnett ~~ John Whitmore